Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Councillor Allowances

The Taxpayers Alliance* has today published details of the basic allowance paid to all local councillors in the UK. It's probably not news to anyone who is concerned about this sort of thing - all the information is publicly available. What is disappointing is the lack of context being given by the organisation.

What is interesting about the figures is the range of pay. From £1500 per year for South Ribble to £16,932 for councillors in the Scottish Borders, it would appear that there is a huge disparity. But context is, as ever, key. Although £1500 is a very low amount in comparison with others, it is being paid by a relatively small district council, an authority with a limited range of responsibilities. At the other end of the scale, the Scottish Borders is a unitary council providing a huge range of services to a very large area. As such, councillors there are likely to be undertaking a lot more in return for their allowances.

In Cornwall, the basic allowance is £12,128.40 per year.

How was this calculated? As with all councils, Cornwall established an independent remuneration panel to make a recommendation. They considered the number of hours that councillors are asked to work and the type of duties undertaken. But the final say lies with the councillors themselves and members in fact voted for an amount lower than that which was being recommended.

Some people (including the TPA) seem to believe that being a local councillor should be a form of voluntary service and that any remuneration should be for expenses only. Which is fine if you are happy for all councillors to be either independently wealthy or retired, or not do the work. With almost exclusively daytime meetings in Truro, it's very difficult for a councillor to hold down an outside job - unless you are self-employed. Even then it is more difficult for councillors from the East or West who have to add an extra two hours or more travel time to that actually spent in County Hall at meetings. As a result, many councillors who started off with full time 'proper' jobs have quit to become full-time councillors. In that context, just over £12,000 is a very small amount to be paid. I estimate that I get slightly less than the minimum wage for the hours I do.

The Liberal Democrats at County Hall have taken the view that, once set at the start of the council, the allowance should stay the same for the four years we are elected. The process of setting the allowance for the next council has started and people will know what they will be getting if elected and can plan accordingly. The Conservatives and Independents, however, have sought to raise the level of allowances every year since the election in 2009. Interestingly, of the top five councils which have raised the basic allowance the most over the past year, four are Conservative controlled and one is Labour.

*The Taxpayers Alliance is an organisation partly funded by UK citizens who live overseas to avoid paying tax.

1 comment:

David said...

Alex, I like the observation 'The Taxpayers Alliance.....' Spot on!